The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has awarded $11.3 million in funding to Alcoa of Australia Limited to demonstrate technology that can electrify the production of steam in its alumina refining process using renewable energy.
Alumina refining is an energy-intensive process that uses high-pressure steam to produce the heat required to process bauxite into alumina. Alumina can then be converted to aluminium in a smelting process.
In 2019, alumina refining accounted for over 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in Australia, which represents approximately 24 per cent of Australia’s scope 1 manufacturing emissions.
The first-of-its-kind deployment in Australia is planned to be undertaken at Alcoa’s Alumina Refining Facility in Wagerup, Western Australia, which currently produces approximately 2.8 million metric tonnes of alumina each year.
Approximately 70 per cent of the total fossil fuels consumed in alumina refining relates to the production of steam in boilers. However, Mechanical Vapour Recompression (MVR) is a potential alternative to produce steam using renewable electricity. MVR recompresses waste steam that would otherwise be exhausted to the atmosphere and recycles it in the refining process. This technology has the potential to improve efficiency, reduce costs and reduce emissions.
Alcoa’s main objective for the project, the total cost of which is $28.2 million, is to demonstrate the technical and commercial feasibility of using MVR powered by renewable energy to produce process heat.
Stage 1 of the project will investigate the feasibility of integrating MVR at the refinery. If proven feasible, for Stage 2 of the project, Alcoa will deliver a 3-megawatt MVR module, powered using renewable energy at the Wagerup Alumina Refinery.
ARENA CEO, Darren Miller, said the project is a significant step towards making low emissions alumina, and an important step towards decarbonising metals production.
“This technology represents an opportunity to electrify a refining process that is currently powered by fossil fuels using a renewable solution which addresses our investment priority of helping industry to reduce emissions, as well as the Federal Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap. This is an important step on the pathway towards green aluminium in Australia.”